Abstracts for 'Identities and Imaginaries in Southern Africa' Seminar, 4 December 2009, SOAS


Black Consciousness in Dialogue: Steve Biko, Richard Turner and the ‘Durban Moment’ in South Africa, 1970 – 1974
Ian McQueen (University of Sussex)

Between 1970 and 1974, the city of Durban was the scene of intense intellectual exchange and debate between a wide array of progressive political movements, originating from sections of the Churches, the city’s counter-culture scene and New Left-inspired campus protest at the University of Natal, and the University of Durban-Westville. This moment of intellectual ferment, whilst spanning the critical Durban Strikes of 1973, saw as well the development and refining of Black Consciousness (BC) philosophy by black student activists congregated at the University of Natal Medical School and Alan Taylor residence. The so-called ‘Durban Moment,’ involved city-level debates and dialogue that challenged the premises of South African liberalism, and encouraged activists to move away from party politics and engage in the politicisation of black workers. Looming large over the debates in Durban were intellectuals Steve Biko and Richard Turner, whose dialogue and intellectual labour, the paper argues, were key in framing and setting the terms of debate. The paper seeks to draw attention to their close and productive relationship and show how it problematises the historical perception of an acrimonious relationship between BC leaders and white leftist and liberal students, highlighting instead a complex synergy.


Who is a ‘Real’ South Africa? The Cape Election and Chinese Indentured Labour, 1903-4
Rachel Bright (University of East Anglia)

ABSTRACT: In December 1903, the governor-nominated Transvaal Legislative Council approved the importation of Chinese men to work on the Transvaal gold mines.  The controversy of this decision, made by an unelected government so soon after the South African War, and while all other ‘white’ colonies were in the process of restricting Asian migration, was profound.  Organisations and networks were established, and an unprecedented and unrepeated shower of petitions were sent to London, so that colonials could have their say on the matter – this was the closest ‘Greater Britain’ ever came to federation, where colonials felt they had the right to have a democratic say in another colony’s affairs.  The Cape was by far the most vocalised.  This was not because they were more pro-imperial federation, but reflected a long discourse of national federation and their belief that they should lead such a move.  In the Cape in particular there was much concern that union could now mean the swamping of their interests with those of the mines.  If the Transvaal was dominated by the mines, then all of the future South African nation could be.  This combined with the racial conflicts between Britons and Boers, and between whites and non-whites to become a dominant issue in the run-up to the 1904 Cape parliamentary elections. Throughout the petition and election campaigning, a debate arose over ‘who was a real South African?’  Cape debates about whether the Transvaal should import labour increasingly focused on who had the right to have a democratic say; who really belonged in South Africa.  Longevity of residence and job occupation were more important than skin colour to many, with the dichotomy between industry and agriculture paramount.  Through such an investigation, one can trace the complicated negotiations between national and imperial identities, between independence and a desire for greater federation, and the important and controversial roles both race and capitalism were to play in South Africa in the 20th century.

‘Saving the Children to Save the Nation’: Poverty, Whiteness, and Childhood in the Cape Colony, c.1890-1899
Sarah E. Duff (Birkbeck, University of London)

As the extensive literature on nineteenth-century ‘poor whiteism’ argues, middle-class concerns about the ‘poor white problem’ were as much a manifestation of fears around the maintenance of white supremacy as they were an expression of genuine concern for the welfare of destitute white people.  However, little of this research has drawn attention to the prominent place of children within debates around poor whiteism: indeed, the first piece of legislation passed by the Cape government specifically aimed at eradicating white poverty was the 1894 Destitute Children’s Relief Bill, which empowered magistrates and ministers to place orphaned or neglected white children in schools or apprenticeships. Government ministers justified this action on the grounds that it was only through the adequate education and training of white children that poor whiteism would be eradicated, and white racial supremacy secured. This state intervention in (impoverished, white) family life was unprecedented and the Cape’s government appealed to the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) for assistance in implementing the Bill’s provisions. The DRC’s involvement in education and welfare dated from its transformation into an evangelical church during the middle of the nineteenth century. DRC ministers’ belief that the ‘correct’ upbringing of children as Christians was a vital feature of evangelising led to the DRC becoming the most important and influential organisation interested in the state of childhood in the colony.

This paper argues that debate around the ‘poor white problem’ during the 1880s and 1890s shifted concern for white children from the Dutch Reformed Church to the Cape government, effectively secularising the provision of welfare to (white) children. Beginning with a discussion about the significance of children in debates round white poverty in the Cape at the end of the nineteenth century, the paper will explore the extent to which this shift from DRC to the state was motivated by concerns about definitions of ‘whiteness’ and attempts to shore up particular definitions of white identity.